Suraj Adekola: Celebrating blackness, amid new approach in new works
For Black artists in the diaspora, maintaining cultural identity and connecting with African roots have been top priorities. This is not an exception for Suraj Adekola, Nigerian-born artist, who recently earned an MA degree in Contemporary Fine Arts at the University of Salford, United Kingdom. Suraj shows a new body of works at the new Adelphi Atrium Gallery, Peel campus, Salford Manchester. The opening reception started at 4:00-7:00pm on Thursday, September 29 and will run till October 13, 2022.
Suraj’s art on display is part of works comprising the ‘We Should All Be Blacks’ series. The artist disassembled and reassembled indigo tie/dye fabric, a process which is similar to the idea of cubist, the cutting of forms and reorganising them to create a new relationship. His use of sophisticated drawings, using thick bleach, an unconventional medium for painting, is intriguing. Thick bleach is not traditionally utilised as a painting medium; rather, it is used to sanitise and remove stains from surfaces, leaving them shining clean. However, Suraj has repurposed thick bleach as a medium for drawing that suggests Black representation. His use of materials, oil bars, and the blackened of his painting’s surface are sure to dazzle visitors to the Gallery. Suraj has adopted the concept of blackening the surface of his artwork to celebrate blackness. And Blackness for Africans is a celebration of the legacy of Blacks both past, present, and future. This artist turns traditional and contemporary materials as painting’s surface and installation that are visually stunning. With Suraj new works after he graduated from the University of Salford, this artist introduced a new approach to displaying an artwork by using a curtain pole to hang his work instead of the conventional frame. Suraj questioned the language of painting and the process underlying it.
Suraj’s unique approach to using Adire (tie-dye) fabric, a clothing material meant for fashion and he repurposed it as surface for paintings instead of the conventional canvas to sustain his Black identity in a multicultural environment. The use of Adire fabric, a textile that is specific to Yoruba culture, meanwhile, he uses it to reflect his ethnic heritage and identity. Suraj uses specific Adire (tie-dye) fabric made in his hometown, Egbaland Abeokuta, Nigeria. While the background of his paintings may depict the sensation of the city of Manchester at night, Suraj situated his work within the liminal spaces of identity politics, migration, dislocation, and co-existences. His work calls attention to Black-cultural identity and the contribution of the people of colour to the development of the British Empire by suggesting it through the materiality of his work.
Another contemporary materials explored by Suraj are footballers’ jerseys and military camouflage to narrate Black history. His work call attention to celebrate Black people: Blacks who are athletes, Blacks who are footballers, Blacks who are children; Blacks who are poor and Blacks who are wealthy; Blacks whose identity is Black; Blacks whose identity is Nigerian, Ghanaian, Senegalese, and other Africans; from children to adults, and every Black person across the globe.
Much of Suraj’s art is influenced by the postcolonial books that he read. His use of footballers’ jerseys references the contributions of the Blacks-sport persons to the development of sports in Western countries. And the use of military camouflage is a metaphor to narrate the story of the soldiers with red jackets during World War 1&2. For Suraj, this suggests the Blacks joined forces with the British during both world wars.
The narratives of his new series of works were drawn from postcolonial theorists such as Stuart Hall, John H. Bracey, Jr., Philip D. Morgan, Kehinde Andrews, Sean Hawkins, David Olusoga, just to mention a few. The artists noted that the struggle for equality will continue in the future. To prevent further marginalisation in a multicultural environment, the body of work that I have created is a direct response to preventing segregation and promoting unity among diverse cultures. The artist stated that we should all be black is not to undermine any culture, or asking people of other colours to become Blacks, but it is to promote equality in our society by seeing each other as equal rather than thinking that one culture is supreme over another.
Suraj’s remarkable talents have earned him a Graduate Scholarship Award from the University of Salford Art Collection. This award also earned Suraj a membership opportunity with Castlefield Gallery in Manchester. This opportunity will allow him to participate in artist talks and exhibitions with the gallery.